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Meet the Windows of the future

[UPDATE 1 ] Tues. 2/29/2012 10:03 a.m.
Windows 8 Consumer Preview (a beta build) is now officially live on Microsoft's servers, so get ready for the rush.  Travel here to get it.
Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky at the unveil event stated, "We are really excited to be here. This is a day that's been long in coming for the Windows team. I just got a picture of the operations center where they're getting ready for the downloads. They've been up since 3 AM."
Let's hope they're ready -- in 2009 a similar beta of Windows 7 saw so much demand that it crashed Microsoft's servers.  It was all for a good cause, though -- the beta process found and fixed 2,000 bugs in Windows 7 and proved a key part of its record-smashing commercial success.  Microsoft hopes to recapture that success with Windows 8.
If you download it and try it, be sure to leave a comment letting us know what you think.

A crucial step in the road towards the launch of Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) next commercial personal computer operating system is set to be taken in just minutes or perhaps hours from now.  Microsoft will unveil a public beta of Windows 8 to the world.  It is pitching the beta both to consumers and to businesses, who might not have jumped onboard the earlier MSDN/TechNet preview builds.

The new OS brings a slew of improvements including a developer-friendly 20-80 Microsoft-developer split for high-grossing apps, less painful Windows Update processfaster bootsdecreased OS resource consumption, and improved file transfers, a streamlined upgrade process for the initial installation, and switching to a primarily online sales distribution model.

Like Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) forthcoming Mountain Lion, Microsoft is pushing hard to "appify" traditional programs, bringing them in line with smartphone apps in terms of app store distribution, icons, and interfaces.  Microsoft is also pushing its SkyDrive -- its cloud storage scheme.

Metro Apps in Windows  8
A slew of Metro Ui apps in Windows 8 [Image Source: The Verge]

The new Windows 8 beta is being launched in Barcelona, Spain, at a 2012 Mobile World Congress event.  The location is appropriate given that Microsoft's new operating system heavily focuses on tablets, for the first time.

Ahead of the launch, some of the built in wallpapers have leaked via r27, an Italian website.  You can grab the 23.6 MB package from here.

WallPaper 1 Wallpaper2 Wallpaper 3 Wallpaper 4 Wallpaper 5 
Wallpaper 6 Wallpaper 7
(Click to enlarge)

The entire Windows 8 download (X64) is expected to be a bit under 3 GB.

Update: The X64 download is 3.3 GB for the English version, while the 32-bit version is 2.5 GB.

Microsoft has published a guide [PDF] for business.  It suggests how business can put Windows 8 on a USB stick for quick and painless managed boots at remote locations.  Given current USB stick capacities have reached 128 GB, it shouldn't be hard to squeeze a managed copy of Windows 8 on there, space-wise.  

Microsoft's business guide also brags about SmartScreen Application Reputation, a feature that screens downloads.  When you go to open a download, if it is a suspect file type and not from a trusted source a warning is given suggesting the user to abort.

The new OS should go live shortly, we will post a link when it does.

Remember, you can install the new operating system as a fully bootable operating system on a single-boot or multi-boot configuration, or more convenient pop it in a virtual machine like VMWare, Inc.'s (VMW) VMWare Workstation.

Sources: The Verge, r27

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First Impressions
By geddarkstorm on 3/1/2012 11:22:39 AM , Rating: 3
I grabbed the Windows 8 64 bit, the first 3.3 gig iso on the download page. So here's my first impressions of it, for anyone wondering to try it out!


Well, funny story. So originally I wanted to put this in VMPlayer. But it turns out my Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 just isn't up to the job of virtualizing 64 bits.

So, I burned Windows 8 to a flash drive, and then launched the Setup.exe while in Windows 7. I thought I might be able to create and install it onto a partition on my second drive. No dice. Windows 8 detected Windows 7 and immediately wanted to install over it, while transferring and keeping all my user settings and applications. It checked to see if any programs had to be uninstalled first. The only thing was Microsoft Security Essentials (now Essentially built into Windows 8, so defunct).

I agreed.

See, you have to understand, I like adventure. And throwing this beta over of my perfectly good OS was quite an adventurous proposition. I'd used Windows 7 ever since it was first in beta, so why not 8? And I had kinda broken my 7 install when I reinstalled it when I got an Agility 3 harddrive (Sata 2), so it was glitchy anyways. Not much to lose right?

Installation was smooth, very smooth, far more automated than Windows 7. The entire installation screen was quite different too, and much more automated. In all it took 20-30 minutes to install on my Agility from a Flash drive.

And low and behold, it was a success ! All my programs were kept, my username, even my theme, wallpaper and power settings for the computer. All these transferred over without a hitch. The only things needing a re-install were my sound card drivers (had to set to compatibility for Windows 7, so if something won't install remember to try that) and my graphics drivers. The built in graphics drivers were also pretty dang good however; but would give some screen tearing if you try to scroll rapidly on a web page. All my programs I've bothered to launch so far also worked straight up without a hitch (Firefox, Pidgin, Chrome, Musicbee, Steam, Skype).

First Impressions

The Good:

Fast. Really fast. Usually you get a new OS and you think it'll be slower and more complicated than your older one, with all its updated technologies. Not so on my E7200. Windows 8 is noticeably faster than 7 in everything. Programs launch faster, windows are more fluid and snappier, memory management is much improved so even with 24 tabs in chrome and 44 tabs in Firefox all running simultaneously, these programs continued to be like butter. I really was not expecting this. And all of this without having the graphics drivers installed yet.

Another good point is that installing updates does not lead to the OS nagging you like a nosy Aunt, to restart every ten minutes. UAC is also much more muted, and seems better integrated into the system. Looking at Programs and Features in the control panel, the running windows services are much easier to read through and tweak to your liking. The file browser works well with that "ribbon", and it's really nice having it be context away.

And the task manager! That thing is gorgeous now, and much improved over the old 7. That alone is almost worth the upgrade ;).

The ability to hit flag key and start typing to search for a program by name is also a very welcomed treat, something people with Gnome 3 will be familiar with. It can speed things up considerably, and could have been even better but... this will be mentioned more in The Bad.

RE: First Impressions
By geddarkstorm on 3/1/2012 11:23:16 AM , Rating: 3
The Bad:


Whoever thought this was a good idea for a desktop OS made a mistake. Everything about metro is screaming Tablet. And if you were using this on a small screen device with your fingers, it would be great. But on a big (19") screen with keyboard and mouse as your interface, it just doesn't work.

Forget about your usual fluid multitasking. You can use the desktop, thank goodness--our one concession given by Microsoft--but there's no start menu. If you have programs open, watching them as they feed you data as you multitask around, you're going to have to forget your normal usage models. Going to the start "screen" results in completely being locked away from your desktop. You can hear a program send you a notice, but you can't go to it or see what it's doing without clicking back on the desktop and out of the start screen. So why would you need the start screen? To launch any program not on your desktop or taskbar. You're also forced into the start screen when you do a search for a program. Again, locking you away from all your multitasking.

This is a huge step back for productivity from the normal way we're used to interacting with the Windows OS. What would take one or two clicks to do, now takes several and typing to boot. Even Windows 7 can turn off Aero and basically be a Windows 3.x GUI. But no more. You can feel just how much they don't want you in that desktop, as now it's just one minor tile in the start screen instead of your major interface. But it's the desktop where things get done. Also, install a new program and you don't get a nifty highlighted line getting you back to it in the start menu of old--I'm not even sure how you would easily find it now if you didn't know its installed .exe name for searching it out. In fact, I haven't even really found (though I haven't looked deep, but I shouldn't have to) how you find a list of your programs, instead of having to search by typing. What if it's months later and you know you have something but forgotten its name, or simply want to browse through what you do have? I'm sure it's doable, but now it's buried instead of right there as a main focus.

Apps... Oh apps. This goes right back to metro being a terrible idea for a desktop; apps highlight this to the extreme. Only app I launched was Solitaire. Immediately it went full screen; again slaying any productivity and multitasking. How do you screw up solitaire as a program, well just run this sucker and you'll find out. It's laggy, it's ugly, there's no resizing, minimizing, or shrinking it. And there's no close button. Oh no, to close it you have to click at the top of the screen, yes, the very top, hold and then drag it all the way down to the bottom of the screen.

That would work if this was a tablet, and it isn't too massive a motion on my little resolution, but just think what this will be like for people with bigger screens if they have to do it often. What a huge blow to useability--ignoring how the app takes over your entire screen.

Final Thoughts

The underlying core for Windows 8 is a surprising improvement over 7. Faster and more fluid, and the ability to search out programs integrated in for how you launch them (no more start menu lists... which is a bad thing, both features together is how it should have been). Installation was a breeze, and it really did keep all the Windows 7 settings and programs flawlessly running when doing an "upgrade". Only a few drivers had to be reinstalled, and those drivers had to be in legacy Windows 7 mode to do it. But they did install and work. This makes upgrading to 8 both a safer and easier proposition than 7 was from xp.

Metro is geared totally for a tablet, and just is a ridiculously clunky idea for a desktop. A step back, it makes it harder to collate productive programs and run multiple things at once dynamically. And the whole "apps" idea is executed extremely poorly. Again, it'd work for a tablet, but it will not work for a desktop. Forcing you to address just that one "app". You can alt-tab, but you can't watch multiple things at a time. And closing it requires large motions instead of a simple click. For people with big screens and resolutions, this'll be especially painful a change.

In all, Windows 8 really is great, but I think Microsoft needs to give us the ability to completely deactivate Metro (except the flag-key search feature; and integrate that into the desktop experience like Gnome 3) if they want this to be a truly productive OS. Business are doubtfully not going to like this thing with Metro, and that extra layer of complexity is going to make IT and troubleshooting support a nightmare.

Drop metro, and this is the true, and worthy successor to 7.

But, this is all my opinion. Give it a shot, and see what you think!

RE: First Impressions
By geddarkstorm on 3/1/2012 11:42:05 AM , Rating: 3
Another bad I just discovered: how do you even turn off or restart the computer? Where's that hidden now, without alt-ctrl-delete? Instead of being right there in a start menu, it's now... err... somewhere? I tried to do a restart from updates but... it seemed to have failed. That I just chalk up to it being a preview and glitching. But that little popup overly if you mouse to the right of the desktop is gone (that overly also keeps you from docking things on the right, another step back I think, while not really providing anything... my attempts to use it previously yielded no results where it just didn't respond), so if it held the secret of restarting, I've lost that to this glitch for the moment... Though I didn't see such options when I was fiddling with that overly earlier.

Ah well, this is what you get for making a silly limited start screen your hub instead of the useful and dynamic desktop.

RE: First Impressions
By geddarkstorm on 3/1/2012 11:45:26 AM , Rating: 3
Ah-hah, intuition was correct. Got that right side overly back, and it does have the power options under settings, which puts you back in the Start Screen and out of the desktop to go see. That overly would be ok... if this were a tablet, but it's not.

I'm sure there must be keyboard commands too, but I don't know them (and I'm a mouse oriented user).

RE: First Impressions
By TakinYourPoints on 3/1/2012 3:59:33 PM , Rating: 2
Pretty much agree with you here, nice writeup!

RE: First Impressions
By Valahano on 3/2/2012 11:07:23 AM , Rating: 2
Thanks, nice overview.

I'm disappointed with UI decisions of Microsoft ever since Vista. Maybe I'm too old-school, but Vista/Win7 UI was a downgrade for my productivity. Type-search start menu offers nothing for me as I use Launchy, for example. Thank god for Classic Shell/7TT on Win7 too - up button and classic start menu/taskbar.

I'm hoping for some sort of 3rd party shell replacement/enhancement software for Win8 too.

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